I was sitting in a hotel room late the other day, flipping channels as I haplessly attempted sleep. I ran across the repeat of Bill Maher's show with Kurt Vonnegut which originally aired last week. I found myself both agreeing and disagreeing with much of what was said that night. Maher and Vonnegut were talking about New Orleans, America, and politics, but then they shifted to a very surprising discussion about Jesus. Here is the extent of their conversation:
Bill Maher (to Kurt Vonnegut Jr.):
In your new book you make a very interesting point about how the Republican right is always wanting to post the Ten Commandments in public places, which of course is from the Old Testament, but they never, ever seem to want to post the sayings of Jesus, like the Beautitudes: Blessed are the meek, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the peacemakers. They’re such Christians but they never want to put up what Jesus said.
Kurt Vonnegut (in response to Bill Maher):
Well I don’t think they’ve ever paid any attention to him, and if he were to show up now with that kind of talk I think he would probably be given lethal injection rather than crucifixion.
No, I don’t think they know anything about Jesus…
They then went on to address other political issues in Vonnegut's work. Regardless of one's opinion of their stated politics, I found their discussion of Jesus quite revealing. They each knew the Beautitudes, most specifically they knew about Jesus' humility, his mercy, and his commitment to peacemaking. Somehow, they also knew that Jesus' life was somehow instructive, that it ought to be emulated somehow. They equated knowing Jesus with living like Jesus.
I've interviewed Emerging Church leaders who have told me the same thing. They tell me that their non-Christian neighbors know who Jesus is -- the problem is that the church doesn't. These leaders tell me their simple (but not easy) task is to emulate Jesus as a community, to resemble the way he lived, in very public ways. They do not need to introduce those in the world to Jesus -- these 'neighbors' already have a pretty good idea of what he is about. Their fundamental task is to introduce these neighbors to a Christ-following church, i.e. to a people that resembles this humble, merciful and peace-making Jesus.
Not a few times does the church find that the prophetic critique of its life comes not from those inside the community but from those labeled 'world'. Rather than defend ourselves, we need to listen and see what the Holy Spirit is saying to us...